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​Howell Devine, Strange Time Blues​

Traditional blues music cuts deeply into our culture; it's the song of the night, of the mean streets where men and women went to express and release their pain.

The trio HowellDevine, formed in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2011, brings us up to date, detouring into our present, frighteningly apocalyptic, new world with their CD, Strange Time Blues. It's an era where the pain cuts deeper and is more widespread than ever: days of disaster, devastation, poverty, calamities of all kinds. This, HowellDevine's first release from their new label, DynaPhonic Records, and their fifth release overall, takes us to these dark places whether we want to go there or not.

Josh Howell's vocals have a somber depth, as he masterfully plays his National resonator guitar and harmonica with crystal clarity. The band covers six classics, while adding four originals. Pete Devine on drums and Joe Kyle Jr. on upright bass provide a background that is steady, hypnotic, and sometimes funereal.

These songs, sounding old and new at the same time, strip the music down to its bare essentials, notes reverberating over a naked landscape.

The album kicks off with a version of Fred McDowell's "I Walked All the Way from East St. Louis," about a man who's hoboing, without "one poor lousy dime" ("A dark cloud is rising / I wonder what's gonna become of me"). On "Nila," a woman, hunch-backed and hobbling, has seen far better days. Now, she's dragging her trash down the lane while drinking from a tall can to kill her pain. She's got lung cancer, with six months to live, as she stops to light a Winston.

Environmental disaster darkens the skies and waters. Fire is the villain on "Smoke" ("hills ablaze in the daytime/all night flames lash through the sky") and flooding on the Memphis Minnie/Joe McCoy number "When the Levee Breaks," where Howell sings, "Crying won't help you/praying won't do no good."

The futuristic instrumental "Strange Time Meltdown" has Howell's eerie guitar recreating the sound of rockets colliding over a burning planet. On another instrumental, "Hey! Oh, Really?," Howell's harmonica takes a strong lead backed by Devine on washboard and porcelain whiskey jug.

Add their version of Muddy Waters' "Long Distance Call" and songs by R.L. Burnside and Blind Boy Fuller and this may be the best album of 2022.

~ Robert Feuer 


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​Howell Devine, Strange Time Blues​

Listening to the blues regenerate for, well, a century really is undoubtedly a road for the well-rested. Because just when it seems like all the permutations have been heard and it might be time to hang it up, a trio like Howell Devine shows that in reality the road is endless and there's no need to worry about finality. That's not in the cards. First the facts: The Howell Devine band is Joshua Howell on vocals, harmonica and strings; Pete Devine on drums, washboard and (why not?) porcelain whiskey jug; Joe Kyle, Jr. on upright bass. The trio kicked around the mountain of blues songs residing on Planet Earth and came up a fascinating list of classics, and then added a few of their own originals. Mission accomplished too, because something like their "Strange Time Meltdown" sits just right next to Blind Boy Fuller's "Untrue Blues." Howell's voice is one that needs no changing. He reaches down where one's emotions are in constant turbulation looking for a semblance of serenity, and finds a sound which can express the opposites like they were meant to co-exist. That's called life, and as we all continue to spiral towards what's ahead, the blues is as good a companion as could be imagined. Together over a decade, Howell Devine has made four previous albums and on this new one sounds like they've discovered a brand new land of accomplishment, a place where this blues is all their own. The trio is able to embrace the strange times that have come before, arrived again and will surely be back for another visit sometime in the world's future. That's the gig for humanity, and there is no getting out of it. The good news is that for right now, in these strange times, Howell Devine is here to help. Blues or lose.

~ Bill Bentley


​Howell Devine, Strange Time Blues​

Based out of San Francisco but delivering their own blend of traditional Piedmont, Hill Country and Chicago blues, HowellDevine are an acoustic trio with plenty of contemporary appeal, and they serve up a treat with their fifth CD, which intersperses four originals with six covers, all of which deal with the problems all of us are facing while living in a disease-wracked, troubled world.

Formed in 2011, the band is led by vocalist Josh Howell, a double threat on harmonica and guitar. A fixture in the Bay Area blues scene since age 14, he held down the harp chair in the house band at Eli's Mile High Club in Oakland when still too young to drink. Influenced by six-string masters Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Robert Johnson and R.L. Burnside, he enjoyed success as a luthier but has been devoting himself to the stage full-time since relocating to Thailand for a couple of years, where he played 15 solo gigs a week.

He's backed by Pete Devine, a Maine native who's been performing in blues, jazz and jug band setting on the West Coast since the '80s, on drums and Joe Kyle Jr., who's being playing upright bass with roots and swing bands in the Bay Area since the early '90s. They combine to deliver hypnotic, deep-in-the-pocket grooves throughout.

After four successful albums on the Arhoolie/Smithsonian Records imprint, this is HowellDevine's maiden effort on their own label. It was recorded at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco, the renamed landmark where Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby Stills Nash & Young and The Grateful Dead all laid down tracks for legendary engineer Wally Heider in the '60s and '70s.

An interesting reworking of McDowell's "East St. Louis" sets the tone to open with Howell laying down unhurried bottleneck slide runs on his 1931 National Steel Duolean resonator, Devine on brushes and Kyle delivering a haunting bottom. It describes dark clouds forming overhead as the singer wonders what troubles lay ahead.

The sound sweetens for the original, "Smoke," but runs counterpoint to cautionary lyrics imbued with fiery images that speak out against the effects of human ignorance about pollution and global warming that might push all of us into extinction. Howell drives home his message with a powerful harp solo. The mood brightens quickly, however, with the instrumental "Hey! Oh Really?" with Devine simultaneously doubling on the skins and porcelain whiskey jug as Josh rips and runs on the reeds.

A sweet cover of Blind Boy Fuller's "Untrue Blues" has new, hidden meaning in a world inundated with fake news before unique takes on R.L. Burnside's "Long Haired Doney," Memphis Minnie's "When the Levee Breaks" and Muddy Waters' "Long Distance Call" before Howell recounts the true story of "Nila," an elderly, cancer-stricken woman who struck and killed by a neighbor who was speeding in his truck down the lane. Another haunting instrumental, "Strange Time Meltdown," deals with the solitude of living in the midst of a pandemic before Rev. Robert Wilkins' classic “That's No Way to Get Along" brings the action to a close.

​Sure, the themes are dark on this one. But if you have an appreciation of great picking and playing, there's a lot to like with this one.

~ Marty Gunther

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HowellDevine's traditional blues a fresh and timeless sonic gumbo.

​Joshua Howell's electric guitar sounds are brittle and gritty, sometimes hypnotic and often searing with buzzing inflections if he uses a slide. On harmonica, his playing is full-winded, by turns sharp and mellow, always speechlike - skills he learned as a teenager sitting in at Oakland's legendary Eli's Mile High Club. His singing boasts a grainy vocal texture that is also occasionally lilting, but carries an emphasis on rhythmic momentum.

No less engaging are the drumming sounds of Pete Devine, percussive, full and round, polyrhythms that cascade into steady, toe-tapping dance rhythms; and the acoustic bass string-slapping, earthy and resonant, broad and buoyant, of Joe Kyle Jr. Theirs is the bottom line, the foundation, to Howell's leads on six-string electric or National steel guitars.

Mixed together into an appealing sonic gumbo, it is the essence of HowellDevine, a Bay Area-based trio that — in club, theater and festival shows, as they will April 9 at the Downtown Theatre in Fairfield — mines the blues, the bedrock of American popular music, from rock 'n' roll and much of jazz to folk and even classical music, certainly in the 20th century and now well into the 21st.

Their song list, which also includes some originals, digs into the considerable American blues library. It stretches from 12-bar blues of the Mississippi Delta and Hill regions and its practitioners, such as Fred McDowell, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and R.L. Burnside, to the trance-like moanings of Junior Kimbrough and Fred McDowell. Add the country blues of Blind Boy Fuller, the founding father of East Coast blues, to a straight-ahead boogie-woogie.

Or it may be a harmonica-driven vocal that covers a stark Sonny Boy Williamson II tune, conjuring a vision of hardscrabble life on the dusty, reddish plains of the Mississippi Delta, the lyrics informed by the travail of working for the man, hard luck and trouble, and love turned sour.

Howell and Devine, both Oakland residents, met about 10 years ago when Devine was playing in a string and jug band at a small venue in San Francisco. Howell performed a separate solo set. "He was great," Devine, 54, said during a telephone interview Monday. "I sat in and played a couple of tunes with him. That was the basis of our band. We hit it off immediately and were a duo for a couple of months" and later added Kyle, 60, of San Francisco, on bass.

Based on their recordings, among them "Delta Grooves" (2012), "Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju" (2014) and their just-released "Strange Time Blues," which includes some psychedelic forays, their music, while rollicking, spare, lean and rooted in early blues, stands in sharp contrast to most blues bands working the genre's entertainment circuit today.

Their stock in trade tends to be more reminiscent of what could be seen and heard in a Deep South juke joint where patrons can savor barbecue ribs, fish, chicken, beer, and homemade grain alcohol along with tunes such as "I Can't Be Satisfied," "Spoonful," "Rollin' and Tumblin'," and "Shake 'Em on Down." Yet, by all accounts, including recorded performances on YouTube and tracks available at the band's website,, the three musicians make the old sound fresh and timeless, not mechanical and dull.

"We're not a typical blues band," said Devine, a former member of Lavay Smith's Red Hot Skillet Lickers who also plays rhythm washboard and has cited Baby Dodds and Francis Clay as major influences. What sets the band apart, he added, are its many collective influences. "We're all steeped in the blues tradition," said Devine, who plays the foot pedals in his stocking feet and reportedly still uses the Ludwig bass drum pedal that came with his first drum kit when he was 6. "We love the trio format. There's a telepathy onstage when we play tight. We can play a Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson song and go out on a limb to the point where we put our own signature on it, giving it twists and turns the audience doesn't expect.”

Much of the band's overall sound and uniqueness stems from Howell's vocals, which, very much like the creators of blues more than 100 years ago, can express a rising emotion with a falling pitch, and, as in the best of the original recordings from the 1920s, '30s and '40s, to a shattering emotional effect, enhanced by his fingerpicking style, that creates a mesmerizing match to a song's poetry.

Two of the band's recordings, "Jumps, Boogies & Wobbles," besides "Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju," were laid down on the prestigious Arhoolie Records label, owned at the time by Chris Strachwitz, the Bay Area recording legend of blues, Americana, folk, norteno and jazz, who sold his catalog to Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in 2016. Devine recalled giving a self-produced recording to Strachwitz and how much he liked it, saying, "He said, 'I love it and want to record you guys.' He liked the simplicity to it. He also said, 'You guys are the most rhythmic white boys I've ever heard.'" Strachwitz, remembered Devine, loved Howell's slide guitar work, saying it reminded him of McDowell, whose flattened intervals, flat thirds, on guitar are the classic "signature" of the blues, the sound that makes them different and signal a melancholy and depressed mood, a reflection of the Jim Crow caste system of the Deep South at the time. "Chris loved Fred McDowell," said Devine, who, relocating from Maine in 1988, has played professionally all of his adult life. "It's kind of a feather in our cap," to have gained the attention of Strachwitz, who has recorded McDowell, Lightning Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Bukka White, Big Joe Williams and K.C. Douglas and so many more blues greats.

A mix of 10 tracks, the band's latest album, as the title suggests, had its natural genesis out of the current state of the world, beset by environmental and political turmoil, a pandemic, and now war in Eastern Europe, noted Devine. On the DynaPhonic Records label, the songs include instrumentals and four originals, including "Strange Time Meltdown," which Devine describes as a cross between Velvet Underground and Jimi Hendrix. "It fits in with the times," he added.

~ Richard Bammer


Classic blues is some of the spookiest music ever written. Imagine you are living in rural Mississippi in the early 1900s, listening to a blues musician holler like he was possessed by the devil. It would scare and excite you. The electric blues that later evolved in big cities never quite had that quality, but San Francisco trio HowellDevine harkens back to the earliest, most dangerous era of blues.

~ Aaron Carnes





From Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf to Son House and B.B. King, blues artists have claimed some of the most evocative monikers in American music. With its intimations of primal sacred cries, HowellDevine embodies that legacy in word and deed, delivering elemental blues and boogie like juke joint prophets. Featuring Eli's Mile High Club-honed Joshua Howell on slide guitars, harmonica, and vocals, percussion expert Roll 'Em Pete Devine on drums and washboard, and the relentlessly propulsive Joe Kyle Jr. on bass, the combo taps into red clay Delta roots while embracing fierce grooves that speak to urban realities. While debates about authenticity and the blues often devolve into tiresome stalemates, the fact that HowellDevine was the first blues act signed by Chris Strachwitz to his Arhoolie Records label in a quarter century speaks to the band's unusual feel for the tradition. The result was 2013's "Jumps, Boogies & Wobbles," which neatly sums up their irresistible sound. 

​~ Andrew Gilbert

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Over the past six years, since the release of the debut recording, Delta Grooves, HowellDevine has matured into one of the hardest working and most distinctive blues groups in Northern California.  On the trio's latest and fourth CD, Howl (released by Little Village Foundation), Joshua Howell (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Pete Devine (drums, washboard, jug), and Joe Kyle, Jr. (bass) offer their take on songs by Sonny Boy Williamson, R.L. Burnside, Robert Johnson, Hound Dog Taylor, the Meters, Blind Blake, and Steve Cropper/Don Covay, adding a couple of thoroughly convincing originals, as well. "With time, we've naturally branched out a bit," Devine told music journalist Andrew Gilbert for Berkeleyside. "With our live shows Joe Kyle picks up electric bass sometimes and we focus more on grooves and slip into some long jams, a trance, vortex situation that's really fun to dance to. It's not typical blues you hear in a blues bar these days. We get a lot of kids and people in their 20s."

With Tony Ferro engineering the sound, HowellDevine will perform live on The Hear and Now in the KPFA performance studio and chat with host Derk Richardson.  Sample their music here.  For their full concert calendar, click here.




Little Village Foundation artist: Howell Devine - HOWL - New Release Review
I just had the opportunity to review the most recent release, Howl, from Howell Devine and it's quite cool. Recorded at the acclaimed Greaseland Studios by Kid Andersen, this release has a great old style yet current vibe. Opening with Sonny Boy Williamson's The Key, Joshua Howell on vocal, guitar and harp melds nicely with Pete Devine on drums and Joe Kyle Jr. on bass. With it's lumbering pace, the track has deep blues roots. RL Burnside's Going Down South develops a rumble with solid bass lines and super vocals by Howell. Kickin it up a notch, Howell drives his guitar hard without breaking Burnside's basic monumental style. Very nice. Sookie Sookie has that great Booker T feel complimented by Kid Andersen on organ but this track is really a showcase for Howell's harp work. Very cool. One of my favorite tracks on the release is original composition, Sirenic Woman with raw slide playing and tom tom heavy drums and exaggerated bass lines by Kyle. Excellent! a traditional cover of Robert Johnson's Come Into My Kitchen will always be a welcome addition to a rough and ready blues release and HD does a real nice job on this one with clean, under exaggerated vocals and real nice slide work. Very nice. Showing broader influences, The Meter's Funky Miracle is a cool break away from the traditional style blues but tight never the less. Andersen, Howell, Devine and Kyle trade riffs like kids with a ball giving the track a real playful feel. Solid. Blind Blake's Rope Stretching Blues is another really nice primitive style cover with particularly sensitive snare work by Devine, complimenting particularly clean guitar and vocals by Howell. Wrapping the release is original composition, PM Blues with solid strong tension on a traditional, SBW style theme. With the addition of Danny Brown on tenor sax and Fil Lorenz on bari sax this is a great closer with a wide open road for Howell's harp work. Very nice.






HOWL by HowellDevine (Little Village Foundation)

When it comes to the blues, authenticity doesn't mean sounding like Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, or Blind Blake; it means sounding like yourself. On its fourth album, while interpreting songs by all of the above, as well as by Hound Dog Taylor and R.L. Burnside, the Bay Area trio of Joshua Howell (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Pete Devine (drums, washboard, jug), and Joe Kyle Jr. (bass) frees itself from a fixed identity as a (mostly) acoustic blues band by playing instrumentals that venture into New Orleans R&B (the Meters' "Funky Miracle") and '60s soul (Don Covay and Steve Cropper's "Sookie Sookie," learned from a version by jazz guitarist Grant Green). Kid Anderson adds essential organ parts to both tracks. Expressive and virtuosic — Howell is commanding on slide guitar and harmonica — the trio might echo sounds from early Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, and even Cream, but that's just one way HowellDevine flexes its multifaceted personality. 

~ Derk Richardson


Howling the Blues at the Freight with HowellDevine 

As a name for a blues combo HowellDevine is almost too perfectly evocative, with its intimations of primal release and sacred ritual. But guitarist Joshua Howell and drummer Pete Devine came by their moniker, and their irresistible groove- drenched sound, with absolute integrity.

Anchored by veteran bassist Joe Kyle Jr., who proudly lists Martin Denny, Al Kooper, and Pinetop Perkins among the many bandleaders who've hired him, HowellDevine has been one of Bay Area's busiest blues bands since Arhoolie released the trio's second album in 2013, Jumps, Boogies & Wobbles.

It was the first new blues session released by Chris Strachwitz and his storied East Bay roots label in almost three decades, and in an interview at the time he explained why he was smitten with their sound.

The first time he heard them "if I had been blind I'd have thought I was in some little Mississippi beer joint in 1940," said Strachwitz, then 82. "I was really taken by their mastery of the blues. Joshua isn't trying to sound like a black guy. . .And he was accompanied by this incredible dude Pete Devine on washboard, jug and drums. The rhythm and syncopation fit to perfection."

HowellDevine released an acclaimed follow up on Arhoolie in 2014, Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju, that illustrated even more vividly why the band caught the ear of Strachwitz, who recorded classic albums by Delta blues legends Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. The trio celebrates the release of a new album, Howl, Wednesday at Freight & Salvage, a project they gured would come out on Arhoolie too (I should mention here that I wrote the album's brief liner notes). But since Smithsonian Folkways acquired Strachwitz's vast treasure-laden archives last year, the label is no longer putting out new music.

The band reached out to veteran blues pianist Jim Pugh's non-profit label Little Village Foundation, which has put out a series of excellent roots music albums over the past two years. "He's doing some great things, releasing some great music," Devine says. "His whole concept of a non-profit label supported by music lovers is pretty amazing."

The new album captures the band's expanding sound, as HowellDevine digs into tunes by the Meters and the supremely grooving jazz guitarist Grant Green. Where HowellDevine's first releases paid reverent homage to the country blues tradition by putting a personal stamp on vintage material, Howl finds the trio exploring more contemporary sounds. 

"With time, we've naturally branched out a bit," Devine says. "With our live shows Joe Kyle picks up electric bass sometimes and we focus more on grooves and slip into some long jams, a trance, vortex situation that's really fun to dance to. It's not typical blues you hear in a blues bar these days. We get a lot of kids and people in their 20s."

The Berkeley acoustic blues duo of Pete Madsen and vocalist/guitarist Celeste Kopel open Wednesday's concert with a brief set. In a Freight first that also marks new territory for HowellDevine, the concert features George Holden's Liquid Show & Live Cinema. Holden, who helped pioneer the art form at Fillmore West in the late 1960s, "is going to incorporate videos of the band and other imagery," Devine says. "He’s going to mix it up. He's a super sweet guy, and if this goes well we might do start doing some more shows with him."

With Howell on slide guitar, harmonica, and urgent yet laid back vocal, and the loose but lockstep rhythm section of Kyle on bass and Devine on stripped-down drum kit and occasional washboard, the band boasts an open, uncluttered sound that taps into the blues' roots without sounding like mimicry.

Devine has been a force on the country blues scene for decades, since his early years with Bo Grumpus, a band with a vast repertoire of rags, stomps, marches, and songs from the first decades of the 20th century. More recently he's performed widely as a founding member of Lavay Smith's Red Hot Skillet Lickers, and the Gypsy jazz combo Gaucho.

He was leading his Devine's Jug Band at a short-lived Mission District performance space called Kaleidoscope Free Speech Zone when he met Howell, who opened the show with a solo set accompanying himself on harmonica and guitar. Devine sat in for a few tunes on washboard and "it just clicked," Devine says. "It felt like we were fated to play together."

​While Devine had a long track record on the Bay Area music scene, Howell was a fairly unknown property. Raised in the East Bay, he became a teenage blues aficionado with a taste for the unplugged Delta sound. By the time he was attending Walnut Creek's Las Lomas High he was sitting in regularly on harmonica at Oakland blues joints like Your Place Too and Eli's Mile High Club.

"At first they were cautious and kept the mic levels low," Howell says. "After a few times they kept the levels up and I was welcome on the bandstand. Your Place Too was my regular spot. I was there at least once a week."

He settled in Santa Cruz after earning a degree in philosophy from UCSC, and spent his time building guitars and mastering slide guitar while playing harmonica with Arkansas-born country blues master Robert Lowery, who moved to Santa Cruz back in the 1950s. Looking for adventure, Howell lit out for Thailand in 2008 and spent three years performing solo around the country.

​When he was thrown in jail for working without a permit he figured it was time to come home, and it wasn't long after moving back to the East Bay that he met Devine. They played as a duo for the first six months or so, but the sound really blossomed with the addition of Kyle. They've been honing a sound that brings the blues back to the front porch ever since. 

~ Andrew Gilbert



The Rollicking Thunder of HowellDevine's Pete Devine

After living and performing in the San Francisco bay Area for a quarter of a century, drummer Pete Devine hit gold when he teamed up with guitarist Josh Howell and bassist Joe Kyle, Jr. to form HowellDevine. The formidable blues trio quickly garnered local and national fans for their raw and rhythmic live sound, releasing a trio of acclaimed CDs, including two with roots label Arhoolie Records. With their fourth album, HOWL, HowellDevine continues to hone and develop its well-considered blues vision, broadening their sound to incorporate electric elements, and signing with Jim Pugh's Little Village Foundation. I caught up with Devine as the band prepared for their CD release show, November 29, at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse.

Can you describe how you first started playing together and when you knew you had something?
Pete Devine: I first met Josh Howell back in 2011, at a small arts and entertainment space in San Francisco's Mission District. My friend Sara Powell had a cozy music listening room, and she hired Josh Howell to play an opening set for my jug band, Devine's Jug Band, one night. I listened to Josh play some really nice blues slide guitar. Then he broke out his harp and truly blew me away. I asked if I could sit in with him on jug, washboard and drums on a couple songs....and magic was made! We played as a duet for maybe 6 months, and then felt it was time to add an upright bass player. We had tried a couple of different guys who were both great players, but they weren't quite right. I then contacted my longtime friend, bassist Joe Kyle. Joe had always been my number one want for upright bass players to join me and Josh....but he was very busy playing with other groups. It took a bit of time before Joe committed himself to being the third member, a very integral member, of HowellDevine. [In part because] I had just 6 months earlier pulled a stint in a drug and alcohol rehab down in LA, and Joe wanted to make sure that I had straightened out and was flying right! And yes indeed that has been the case...I've been a clean, killing machine for 6.5 years now.

Tell us a bit about creative process as a band. How do you typically work together sourcing, choosing and writing or co-writing songs?
All three of us openly share our ideas with each other, and we all listen to what another has to say. There is a lot of respect between the three of us. One of us will suggest a song to play, and we will put our own twist onto it, and most likely our own arrangement—different from the original.
Josh has brought many of the songs to the table that we perform now, but Joe and I have also come up with some of the tunes that we cover. Two of my favorite songs on the new HOWL CD were written by Josh: "Sirenic Woman" and "PM Blues." I do think Josh is an excellent songwriter. I'd like to see him do more of that in the future." My wife Sandie also suggested at one point that we cover Blind Blake's "Rope Stretchin Blues," which we now perform and have recorded for the new CD.  We are definitely not a "cover band" in the sense that we try to recreate songs like they were heard on the original records. Why do that? It's already been done. When we decide upon a song, we make that song our own, at the same time hopefully giving justice to it. Hopefully creating something that the original performer (if they're still alive) might actually be happy to hear.

Who would you say are your musical influences? Any notable mentors?
As far as influences for me personally, there are many from different genres and time periods. I love early jazz, and one of the early jazz drummers who has influenced me most [is] the great New Orleans drummer Baby Dodds. Another one of my favs is the early NO drummer Zutty Singleton. And from the swing era, Gene Krupa.  For electric blues, I'd say Frances Clay (who I was lucky enough to meet on several occasions. He once even told me he really dug how I played!). Then there's drummer Fred Below, Odie Payne, and the lesser know Ted Harvey. All of these cats were more Chicago-style electric blues drummers.  For earlier blues percussionists, both Bull City Red (Blind Boy Fuller's washboard player) and Robert Burse (percussionist on the later Memphis Jug Band records, and brother to Charlie Burse) come directly to mind.  Throw in some Earl Palmer (the drummer on many Fats Domino & Little Richard records), and maybe even a small dash of Mitch Mitchell...and you've got a drummer here with MANY different influences coming from MANY different directions. Do I time travel? Perhaps I do.

How do you think living in the Bay Area has or hasn't influenced your sound?
Well I don't know if I be the same type of drummer as I am today if I had lived elsewhere. Living in the SF area for so long definitely, has played a hand in how I sound. In this music-rich part of the country, I have played, or still do play, in Traditional Jazz Bands, Blues Bands, String Bands, Ragtime Bands, Gypsy Jazz Bands, Jug Bands. Anything organic and rootsy. Pretty much everything except for a disco band. Maybe that's Probably not. HowellDevine is my main act these days, and I'd have to say it's my favorite band I've ever been a part of. I've played in some good ones too. To me, HowellDevine is not just blues, but blues with jazzy nerve beats and a rollicking thunder. We've been compared to sounding like a freight train at times. I also get to blow the jug and play the washboard....along with my drumset in this band. Sometimes all at the same time! Joshua Howell and Joe Kyle are both amazing musicians AND people. I credit both of them for helping me to be a better drummer than I may have otherwise been if I had not teamed up with them for this band.

Describe working on your latest recording: How did you select tunes for HOWL? Was this your first time recording at Greaseland?
HOWL is our fourth record, and this was our first time recording down at Kid Andersen's Greaseland Studios in San Jose. Working with Kid and his side kick Robby Yamiliv was truly a special thing. There is some sort of magic —or mojo if you will-—that happens just being in that space. Kid is an amazing engineer, as well as musician. He joins us on two songs on the new record on the B3 Organ, and that's a sound that we really dig! The tunes we decided to record for this record are basically songs that we have been playing lately as part of our repertoire.

You recently signed with Jim Pugh's new label, Little Village Foundation. How did that develop, why the switch from Arhoolie?
We sort of stretched the boundaries of what one may have heard on our last couple of Arhoolie recordings. Like I had mentioned, we have thrown a B3 Organ into the mix on a couple of tunes. Joe also puts down his upright and picks up the electric bass for several songs, which gives the band more of groovy, funky electric sound on a couple grooves you might hear on a early 60's R&B jukebox. These new aspects of what we are about might not necessarily fall into what we all consider to be the "Arhoolie sound."  Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie was a very good thing that happened to us. It's wonderful to have a couple records that are now part of the Smithsonian/ Folkways/ Arhoolie Catalogue. They will be there forever...and I DO mean forever. It is an honor to have worked with Chris, Tom Diamont, and the rest of the Arhoolies. They are legendary.  Jim Pugh, who is an amazing pianist and organ player (Robert Cray Band, Etta James), started this new nonprofit label called Little Village Foundation. He's doing really good things, getting some great music out there to folks so otherwise might not get a chance to hear it. Musicians like singer/harmonica player Aki Kumar—who has an amazing band that mashes Bollywood music and blues together, or local songwriter Maurice Tani, are just a couple of the artists he has on his label.  I thought HowellDevine's music might be a good fit for Little Village, so I approached Jim about having us on his label. He really dug our band and this new record of here we are. We are very excited about our new record, and also being a part of the LVF family!

​What can listeners expect at the Freight & Salvage on November 29? Any other notable appearances or tours planned for 2018?
I think our upcoming Nov. 29th Freight and Salvage show is going to be a very exciting event! Not only will we be playing songs from our new CD, but our friend, 1960's San Francisco Liquid light pioneer George Holden will be presenting a liquid light/ cinema show on a big screen that he'll be setting up behind us on the stage at the Freight. Linked up with our music, there will be old video and photos just above our heads, as well as the psychedelic swirling liquid light. A total sound and imagery extravaganza.  Also blues guitarist Pete Madsen and his musical partner, vocalist Celeste Kopel, will be playing a short opening set to kick off the show. They're really great...and we're looking forward to hearing them.  Will there be some dancing, too? You betcha! To answer the second part of this question,'s hard to say what 2018 will bring for HowellDevine. I do know we'll continue to perform at our favorite haunts around the Bay Area. Hopefully we'll get a good little buzz about HOWL.  Over the last couple years we have played several major festivals — including Strawberry Music Fest in California and The Rhythm & Roots Festival in Rhode Island. I would love for us to do more stuff like that, and hopefully a bit more traveling.  As long as the three of us keep the music coming and continue to improve as a musical entity, I have a feeling that good things will be coming down the road for us.

​~ Deborah Crooks

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HowellDevine Put Their Stamp On the Blues at The Freight

It's not exactly a secret that HowellDevine plays Mississippi Hill Country, Country and Delta Blues very, very well. The California-based trio — featuring Joshua Howell on guitar, harmonica, and vocals, Pete Devine on washboard and drums, and Joe Kyle Jr. on upright bass — is signed to renowned roots label Arhoolie Records, and has garnered glowing praise from their blues elders and aficionados alike since they formed in 2011. Still, one had the feeling during their show at The Freight & Salvage of being in on something special. Simply put, this trio makes up one of the more powerful, innovative, solid and satisfying engines putting out blues today. 

"Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju," the title of their latest release, is perhaps the most apt description of what they're up to: reviving, reinterpreting and respecting the work of the likes of Mississippi Fred McDowell and Muddy Waters, while contributing a few originals to an already heady brew. ​

With little preamble, they took the stage and dug into Waters' "Can't Be Satisfied," Howell wielding his ES 335 with assurance, as Devine and Kyle Jr. kicked into high gear, going from zero to 60 without batting an eye. Later in the set, after their no-holds-barred, deeply nuanced original "RailRoad Stomp," someone in the audience called out "encore!" Most bands would be done after the ten-minute-plus effort which found Howell wailing on his multiple harmonicas, making his train come and go, steam and crash, lumber and coast over all sorts of sonic terrain. Meanwhile, Devine's arms and legs were moving in all directions, picking out rhythms within rhythms, as Kyle Jr. ably kept the pace, a well-rooted tree in a winter storm, bending as needed, but not going anywhere. It was a test of endurance and strength as much as exhbit of musical prowess. But an hour-plus set is just getting started for these guys.

"Already?" Pete said in reply. "We got more!" The HowellDevine train can, does and is ready to go on for miles. And after a brief pause, they dug back in.

~ Deborah Crooks

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Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju places number #4 on Alternate Root Magazine's top 40 blues albums list for 2015.

4 - HowellDevine (from the album Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju) - Joshua Howell started playing harmonica at fourteen and by seventeen he was sitting in with local San Francisco Bay Blues bands. Pete Devine began playing drums in his native Maine when he was six years old and bassman Joe Kyle, Jr. is a survivor of the great San Francisco Swing Wars of the early 1990's. The trio came together in the SF Bay Blues scene, and set up shop as HowellDevine, matching the sound and the cool monikers of early electric Blues players. Modern Sound of Ancient Juju wraps up eleven tracks with Jazz-flecked Blues riffs and rhythms. HowellDevine have magic moments in the songs when the music suddenly takes over. Yeah, three guys are playing instruments, yet the sound seduces as one force of nature. "Shake 'Em on Down" does exactly what the title says as it ricochets guitar leads off bass riffs and drum rolls, "Woogie Man" leads with the harmonica sizzling over a confident bass and a high-hat on steroids, and "Sweet to Mama" rolls and rattles Blues as it welcomes a lady love home in the bright light of morning. HowellDevine are three men with Blues living inside them, and through the Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju like the song says, "It's Too Late Brother". . . you are hoodooed. 

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Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju reviewed on The California Report

The Bay Area blues scene has thrived ever since World War II brought an influx of African Americans to the region. Two decades later, Bill Graham started presenting blues artists on the same bill as rock bands, introducing the electrified Chicago sound to new audiences. But an older tradition was already in place, an acoustic sound that provides the primary inspiration for the blues band HowellDevine. The trio's new album "Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju" harkens back to the blues' Delta roots.

While the band's name might seem too perfect, HowellDevine came by their moniker, and their irresistibly rootsy Delta sound, honestly. With Joshua Howell on slide guitar, harmonica, and urgent yet laid back vocals, and the loose but lockstep rhythm section of bassist Joe Kyle Jr. and Pete Devine on stripped-down drum kit and occasional washboard, the band boasts an open, uncluttered sound that taps into the blues' roots without sounding like mimicry.

Many white musicians have contributed to this essentially African-American cultural expression, and what makes HowellDevine's music so engaging is the way they combine their command of the acoustic idiom with an awareness of the entire blues continuum. The effect can be revealingly uncanny, like when they tear into Bukka White's "Shake 'Em On Down" and it sounds like a lost, unplugged side from Jimi Hendrix circa 1967.

Since the release last year of their debut album Jumps, Boogies & Wobbles, HowellDevine has become one of the busiest blues combos on the Bay Area scene. It was the first blues album in almost three decades released by Arhoolie Records, the storied East Bay roots label whose founder, Chris Strachwitz, is the subject of the fantastic new documentary "This Ain't No Mouse Music."

"Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju" makes it even more clear why Strachwitz, who recorded classic albums by the likes of Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and Fred McDowell, was struck by the band's juke joint grooves.

Part of the album's fun is the way it mixes vintage tunes by long-departed blues legends with HowellDevine originals, like a spooky version of Sonny Boy Williamson II's "She Brought Life Back to the Dead" followed by Howell's cool dismissal "Let You Go."

Howell learned the blues ropes as a teenager in the early 1990s sitting in at Oakland joints like Eli's Mile High Club. After earning a degree in philosophy from UC Santa Cruz, he went on to apprentice with Arkansas-born country blues master Robert Lowery, who had settled in the Monterey Bay area back in the '50s. Devine got his start in the late '80s with Bo Grumpus, a band with a vast repertoire of rags, stomps, marches, and early jazz numbers. More recently he's played jump blues with Lavay Smith's Red Hot Skillet Lickers, Gypsy jazz with Gaucho, and led his own jug band.

He and Howell met about four years ago playing at a Mission District club, and ever since, they've been honing a sound that brings the blues back to the front porch. "Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju" closes with "Railroad Stomp," a smokin' original recorded live at The Baltic in Pt. Richmond. The tune powerfully evokes the trains that played such a big role in the music's journey from rural landscapes to urban settings, a migration that led to the eclipse of the country blues that HowellDevine plays so well.

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Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju   Arhoolie - 550

There is no blues band performing today as different as HowellDevine—nor as delightful. On the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area trio's third CD (and second for Arhoolie), singer, guitarist and harmonica blower Joshua Howell, drummer and washboard scraper Pete Devine and upright bassist Joe Kyle Jr. romp with wild abandon through an 11-song set of tunes by Muddy Waters, Rice Miller, Frank Stokes, Bukka White, Little Walter, along with five originals.

It's old-timey stuff for sure, but rendered with new twists. They may call those twists "modern," yet they draw rhythmically on the syncopations of jug bands and jazz combos of long-ago times, especially Devine with his use of rubboard, tambourine, temple block and other percussion devices as part of a standard snare–toms–bass drum–cymbals kit. Howell handles all the vocals in sturdy low-tenor tones as he alternates between acoustic and electric guitars, fingerpicking much of the time or sliding a bottleneck along the strings. Rather than use a rack harmonica, he puts his guitar down on several occasions, presses the harp to his lips and blows in a manner that reflects his fondness for Sonny Boy Williamson II. His rendering of Williamson's She Brought Life Back to the Dead is particularly chilling. Yet even when nobody is playing chords, the ensemble sound is remarkably full thanks to Kyle's steady walking bass lines and Devine's wondrously intensive percussion work.

The set-closing Railroad Stomp, an instrumental recorded during a nightclub performance in Point Richmond, California, easily ranks as one of the most amazing train tunes ever. Songs that mimic the sounds of steam locomotives have long been crowd-pleasers for DeFord Bailey, Sonny Terry and other harp blowers. Much as Bailey did on his 1928 classic Pan American Blues, Howell simulates the noises made by a train as it speeds up and slows down. The current trio takes it a step further, with Howell replicating the starting whistle and chugga chugga of the engine as its speed increases. As Kyle's bass anchors the bottom while the tempo accelerates and decelerates, Devine adds ringing bells at the beginning and end and, as the train races down the tracks, accentuates the train’s movement with a tambourine atop his hi-hat and rapid stick strokes between his snare and tom-tom. With Railroad Stomp and the other selections on Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju, HowellDevine are clearly on the right track to greater notoriety.

~ Lee Hildebrand

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Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) picks Joshua Howell's original song, "Let You Go," from their Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju album as the Blues Breaker, his pick of the week on the nationally syndicated Bluesmobile radio show. 





Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju   Arhoolie - 550

The blues trio HowellDevine (Joshua Howell–vocals/guitar/harmonica, Pete Devine–drums, Joe Kyle, Jr.–upright bass) made some noise back in 2013 with their Arhoolie Records release (the label's first new blues release in 25 years), Jumps, Blues, & Wobbles.  Now, Arhoolie has released their follow-up, Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju, which continues the band's journey through the blues styles of the 1930's and 40's, mixing invigorating covers of classic tunes with some impressive original compositions.

The music played is truly in the old-school blues tradition. Howell plays electric and acoustic guitar (fingerpick and slide work are both impressive), blows a mean harp, and his vocals are warm and relaxed.  Devine's percussion work is a marvel as he moves from standard drums to washboard to other creative forms, and Kyle's upright bass is rock solid.  The ensemble playing is endlessly entertaining.

The trio puts a fresh face on songs from Muddy Waters ("Can't Be Satisfied"), Sonny Boy Williamson II ("She Brought Life Back To The Dead"), Bukka White ("Shake 'em on Down"), Al Duncan ("It's Too Late Brother"), and a pair from Memphis pre-war blues legend Frank Stokes ("It Won't Be Long Now" and "Sweet To Mama"), but their own songs blend in pretty well with the classics.  Songs like "Let You Go," "House In the Field," and "Rollin' in Her Arms" are first rate, and the marvelous instrumental "Woogie Man" is six minutes long, but could go on forever as far as I'm concerned.

Coolest of all is the closing track, an amazing live performance taken from a show the trio did in Point Richmond, CA. The song, "Railroad Stomp," finds Howell imitating the sound of a train speeding up and slowing down (in the tradition of the 20's and 30's harmonica players like Deford Bailey), backed by Kyle's bass and Devine's endlessly inventive percussion. If you're a longtime blues (or country music) fan, you've doubtlessly heard a song of this type before, but trust me, you've never heard it like this.

Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju is a fascinating look at updated traditional blues, and is an absolute joy to listen to. Every self-respecting fan of vintage blues should add this album to their collection.

~ Graham Clark







Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju   Arhoolie - 550

In 2013, HowellDevine's delightful Jumps, Boogies & Wobbles became the first new blues album that the roots-music devotees at Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie Records had released in 25 years. That speaks well for the relaxed but tight northern California trio's talent for capturing the vibes of long-ago shake-'em-down country bluesmen moving their music from the deep South to Mississippi hill country to Memphis and then up to Chicago.

Their recent 11-track Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju parallels Jumps, Boogies & Wobbles by opening with a Muddy Waters cover – this time “Can't Be Satisfied,” last time “Rollin’ and Tumblin'.” Toward the middle, both discs boast a hot, lengthy, jazz-tinged instrumental they've composed. Here on "Woogie Man," as singer/guitarist Joshua Howell's country harmonica notes trade off with Joe Kyle Jr.'s bass riffs backed by Pete Devine's drums, it seems like a long-ago Little Walter/Willie Dixon jam at Chess Records on Chicago's South Side.

Like their forebears back on Beale Street in Memphis, they sound professional while still having a good time. Maybe it shouldn't be surprising from the disc's joviality and Maine native Devine's washboard work that as a child, he dug Spike Jones's washboard riffs on his grandmother's platters. When San Francisco-born Howell sings Frank Stokes's "Sweet to Mama" line "The blues ain't nothin' but a woman wants to keep her man," is he voicing the essence of the blues? "It Won't Be Long Now" too comes from 1920s Memphis mainstay Stokes. Closing the disc with vestiges of Sonny Terry, "Railroad Stomp" (its one live cut) is a seven-minute harp romp whose train rhythms symbolize bluesmen's migration from a rural South to an urban North.

On Modern Sounds, the line "Rollin' in my sweet baby's arms" introduces, not a bluegrass standard, but a slinky blues from Howell's pen ("with thanks to Howlin' Wolf," as the notes say). Covering Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howell – without sounding leering – sings of a teenaged girl who can bring life back to the dead. Similarly, this trio brings life back to long-gone generations' music.

~ Bruce Sylvester

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Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju   Arhoolie - 550

HowellDevine hails from modern-day California. But inside their three throwback heads, it's crumpled 1940s Mississippi all over again. Clearly the trio would be happiest back in their inspirational element, like off in the corner of some Saturday night Delta hothouse, inciting pandemonium among lubricated merrymakers with their tumbledown, yet highly danceable, repertoire. Burning through scrappy blues with casual precision cut on a creatively traditionalistic edge, it's as if they're auditioning to be the next King Biscuit Boys, trying to pry the job away from Sonny Boy with a tremulous run at his "She Brought Life Back to the Dead" or the go-go-go zoom of their own bottle-necked "Let You Go." Frontman Joshua Howell is the one shucking out harmonica lines with the thick chording of Rice Miller. He's also the one rolling and tumbling a slide down the backbone of his often unplugged guitar. That, in turn, spurs percussionist Pete Devine to do his best Peck Curtis imitation, imaginatively scraping metallic hailstorms from a washboard or whipping colorfully downhome drumbeats. And by thwacking its way through everything, Joe Kyle Jr.'s upright bass gives the set real legs. Just listen to the triple punishment Muddy's "Can't Be Satisfied" gets dished. Trumping that are eight ingenious minutes of live, onstage originality chugged out as "Railroad Stomp," the magnum opus to the longstanding romance between wheezy harp reeds and mimicked train sounds. Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju, the sterling sequel to last year's Jumps, Boogies & Wobbles, newly contributes as much of that juju as it borrows from the past.

~Dennis Rozanski

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Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju   Arhoolie - 550

According to, "juju" is: "1) an object venerated superstitiously and used as a fetish or amulet by tribal peoples of West Africa; 2) the magical power attributed to such an object;" and/or 3) "a ban or interdiction effected by it." Juju can be good or bad, but above all, it is powerful. So are San Francisco Bay-based Joshua Howell and Pete Devine on their sophomore album, which is almost "eerily" good. They know how to balance on the razor's edge between traditional and present-day blues, as they present Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju. They don't go all the way back to tribal Africa in their musical style, but swamp-tinged Cajun influences can clearly be heard ("She Brought Life Back to the Dead"). On eleven tracks – six covers and five originals – they bring revered as well as contemporary classics to life.

HowellDevine consists of Joshua Howell on guitar, harmonica and vocals, Pete Devine on drums and washboard, and Joe Kyle Jr. on upright bass. Their homepage and promotional info sheet reveal rave reviews from such blues rock greats as Charlie Musselwhite, Bonnie Raitt, Elvin Bishop, and Maria Muldaur. In the CD liner notes, writer Musselwhite states: "There's tasty slide, harp and rhythm with relaxed vocals that all blend together for a wonderfully satisfying experience." How right he is, especially on these three outstanding original offerings.

Track 04: "Let You Go" – Despite the jaunty tone of track four, its message is one of cold fury: "Well, your boots are scuffed and ratty. You've been knocking them all night long. You've been keeping late hours, and I know something's going all wrong. One of these days, you're going to beg me not to let you go." Revel in Howell's killer slide solos and Devine's washboard grind.

Track 07: "House in the Field" – Our narrator is up to no good in this stomp. To what dubious domicile does he want to take his heart's desire? "It never seems fair; I want to get you alone. Got a change of plans 'cause our parents are home. Now, listen up, baby – I've got an idea. Let's meet at four o'clock in that house out in the field." Turning an abandoned shack into a love shack has never sounded more sinfully appealing. Only one thing could have made track seven better: the subtle echo of a rattlesnake's rattle at the end, to top it off.

Track 11: "Railroad Stomp – Live in Point Richmond, CA" – What is the timeless blues appeal of train songs? They're musical journeys in and of themselves, and this one's phenomenal. When melody and instrumental sound effects are combined perfectly, these kinds of tunes allow listeners to fall into a trance and dance – or jump up and down, as the case may be. All aboard!

HowellDevine are masters at evoking The Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju!

~ Rainey Wetnight 



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Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju   Arhoolie - 550

With a credit from Charlie Musselwhite to spur them on, HowellDevine – Joshua Howell and Pete Devine - should be rightly proud of the music they have created here. The music is Blues in the classic style, acoustic and without the unnecessary hoopla of modern Blues but well enough recorded that the music is fresh and modern too. The true test of a band playing is their treatment of classics and the opener here is Muddy Waters Can't Be Satisfied given a country Blues treatment: Howell's slide is superb and with Pete Devine's drums skittering and clicking away it feels light and airy but still has the feel of the original – Joe Kyle Jr. delivers some steadfast upright bass, anchoring the track and all round it is a cracking way to open. Frank Stokes wrote It Won't Be Long Now in around 1925 and with Devine adding washboard to Howell's clean acoustic sound it has all the feel of the original but presented beautifully. Stokes Sweet Mama loses some of the dirtiness of the original but gains a sense of innocence that makes for an interesting listen. Sonny Boy Williamson gets a look in with a chilling She Brought Life Back To The Dead with Howell wailing on harp alongside washboard and that wonderful bass from Kyle. It goes on with numbers written by the likes of Booker White, Al Duncan and a nod to Howlin' Wolf but the numbers written by Howell & Devine match well up to the classics and Woogie Man jams along with a great sense of "we're going and we'll get there but meantime let's just chill" to it. Personal favorite is their version of Bukka White's Shake Em On Down where they add a swamp feel to their sound. Howell, Devine & Kyle have a long history playing with some major names in American music but this album feels as though they have found the right place for them and the album is a cracker.

~ Andy Snipper

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